Monday, 29 June 2015


Several years ago I built a steampunk robot out of Lego. I do that kind of thing sometimes. Since I have been pondering the superhero roleplaying game 'Supercrew' over the past couple of days I thought that it would be an interesting exercise to write him up.

To be honest I haven't thought of a fully fleshed-out background for him (it seems to be a 'him'). The Supercrew games I ran a few years ago were set in an idealised, comic-book Victorian London, this this construct would fit right in there, as a member of The Impossible Club (the organisation which drew the characters together). I see him as a kind of Victorian version of Data from Star Trek; of unknown origin, discovered, reconstrcted and reactivated. An intelligent self-aware mechanical device trying to live in the world of humans and maybe become more like them.

He was originally designated the Steam-Powered Ambulatory Difference-Engine, but 'Babbage' seems a good name for everyday use.

I envisage him as a vast store of knowledge encased in robust humanoid mechanical frame. Powered by a small but efficient steam-engine he also generates and uses electrostatic energy to run his cognitive functions (because the term 'electrostatic cognition' is one I feel has to be used from time to time).

Here he is in Supercrew terms

Steam-powered Ambulatory Difference-Engine

1 - Repository of Knowledge
2 - Robust Mechanical Body
3 - Steam-Power

[ ] Reroll - Efficient Indexing (Repository of Knowledge)
[ ] Effect 2 – Steam Jets! (Steam-Power)
[ ] Change One Die To 5 – Built to Last (Robust Mechanical Body)
[ ] Anecdote Bonus

Hero Points: 0

Toughness: 3

The Repository of Knowledge ability represents Babbage's ability to access data on just about anything he has read (which is a lot). The Robust Mechanical Body means that he is resistant to damage, but it can be assumed that he's pretty strong as well. Steam-Power is the least-used ability, and I would see it as using the body's power-source in creative ways. 

Now all I have to do is encourage my daughter to run a game. Or break out the Mythic GM Emulator and do my own.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A Good Upbringing

Those who follow this blog, or who know me of old, will know that my family do participate in gaming activities. My wife has been playing games with me pretty much since we met, and my children from as soon as they were old enough - they both played in HOTT tournaments before they were ten years old for example.

I have run a couple of RPGs for the family over the years, but recently my daughter and her friends have been playing them online, via Skype. This week she did me proud, though, by running her very first face-to-face session as a GM. She ran a game of the rules-lite superhero game 'Supercrew' and apparently it went very well - I spoke to one of her friends afterwards, and she'd really enjoyed the game. Apparently her heroes ended up fighting baddies who'd invaded the Sydney Opera House, and turned it into a rampaging mechanical crab-monster. It all sounded utterly daft, but great fun, and she had obviously picked up basic GM tricks such as not being afraid to change her plans in order to make the game more awesome for the players.

I'm very proud of her, And it's nice to know that there's someone else in the house able to run a game; I much prefer being a player, but up until now no-one else has ever wanted to run the games.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

25mm HOTT

On Thursday we played some 25mm HOTT, something we hadn't really done in a while. It still takes me a while to get used to judging distances at this scale.

The first game saw HOTT-rookie Ralph using a Gondorian army against JohnT using Orcs. Ralph went for a tight deployment on one flank. John centred his defence on a hill, covering one flank with warg-riders whilst he worked wolves around the other.

Gandalf and the Lord of the Nazgul faced each other.

Ralph took lots of casualties from the Orc archers and from attacking uphill, and lost Gandalf to an attack by the Lord of the Nazgul. One element away from defeat he pushed forward to avoid the flank attack and a run of good dice saw his archery cut down the warg-riders to clinch a narrow victory.

John then took the Gondorians and I used my Mantic Elves. This was a clash of two heavy infantry armies.

Obviously there was pushing and shoving in the centre.

My left flank didn't do very well - the Gondorian archers outnumbered and outshot mine. This left me trying to cover the flank with a couple of warband, who did pretty well all things considered - one managed to win several combats against the odds ...

... pushing forward and tying up a reasonable chunk of the opposing army.

On the other flank I also got lucky; my hero managed to destroy the enemy blades it was facing, and I was able to break through the Gondorian line into their rear. Gandalf rushed over to oppose me, but fell.

With a hero in their rear the Gondorians were in trouble and their general was soon killed. A couple of bounds later they had lost enough elements to break the army.

Both games saw the winning army compromised on their left flank but managing an aggressive, and lucky, attack elsewhere to pull off a narrow victory.

Caesar and Gary carried on their testing of yet another version of Aurelian, another set of rules from Sam Mustafa. This version seemed to flow quite well - earlier ones have bogged down a little.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Supanova Sydney 2015

The main hall at lunchtime
Off to the left is another space, at least as big
Yesterday Mrs Kobold and I went up to Sydney Supanova. We went lasy year, as reported on this blog, and enjoyed it so much we decided a return visit was in order. And, once again, we cosplayed.

Our family really enjoys the series Orphan Black, so that's what the two of us did. Spoilers may follow, depending on how far you've watched it ...

Catherine went for the endearing Ukrainian psycho clone, Helena. She already had all of the clothes needed to pull this one off; all that was required was the makeup and a scraggy blone wig. And a model scorpion (not pictured).

I went for something technically more difficult - the pro-clone Rachel Duncan. Specifically Rachel Duncan during her experience with a pencil in Series 2.

I solved the technical difficulty of walking around with a pencil in my left eye all day with a cheap plastic pirate eye-patch, a print-out of Tatiana-Maslany-as-Rachel's left eye, a pencil, some invisible elastic and lots of glue.

Here we are out in the wide world, waiting for the train to Sydney.

My costume got three responses, depending on the person - "Wow! Orphan Black is my favourite programme!", "Ewww! That pencil is gross!" and finally "Wait! Is that a dude?"

Once at Supanova we wandered round, talked to people and posed with stuff.

Whilst posing with the Tardis we ran into another Orphan Back cosplay - another Helena in fact. One so up-to-date that her costume was based on an episode shown only last week.

And then, just before we went home, we found what we were looking - two different cosplay clones - series main-character Sarah and science-geek Cosima.

We managed to do it right next to the BBC Enterprises stand. Since the series is produced by BBC America the staff were very excited to get such a haul, so we posed for them.

Orphan Black Clones - Rachel, Sarah, Cosima and Helena

And then we went home. We picked up a takeaway chicken and chips on the way back, much to the amusement of the staff.

Here's a few - very few - of the other great cosplays on display.

Dark Phoenix
Three Doctors. Like clones, but in time rather than space.
Mad Max: Fury Road Warboys
Perhaps the lady is Mrs Warboys*?
Steampunk Tardis
Crossplay Gandalf
Aztec Sun-God
And finally ...
Our purchases were light - we bought a small Orphan Back related print from an artist who was unreasonably excited to see us, and I added another car to my collection ...

And, again, the question remains - who to go as next year?

*Possibly obscure British sitcom joke.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Waterloo Sunset

Ten years ago I gamed with a club which met on a Friday evening, so we were lucky enough to have our regular session on the exact 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. So we played it on the day. I now play on a Thursday, which meant that our meeting coincided with the 200th anniversary of Waterloo. So I think it's obvious what we played last night.

Locally, Ralph and co. did the battle in grand style last weekend up in Campbletown, using thousands of figures on thirty square metres of table. You can read about that, and enjoy the pictures HEREFor out evening game something more modest was selected - 15mm figures using Blucher, which is designed for this scale of game, and covering the eastern end of the battlefield, towards the end of the day (hence the title of the scenario). The stars of the show would be the Prussians, faced by Lobau's VI Corps and the Guard, with some limited action between the remnants of d'Erlon's and Orange's Corps along the main ridge.

You can see the basic setup here, from behind the Anglo-Allied lines. In the distance is Plancenoit, the main objective for the Prussians. Out of shot to the right are the secondary objectives of La Belle Alliance and La Haye Sainte.

At this stage the Prussians (top left) are still deployed as cards.

Lobau was deployed before Plancenoit. On the left of the picture is the main road to Brussels, plus the Guard, also still deployed as cards.

The ridge, with the remains of Orange's Corps, faced by d'Erlon.

Later into the game, and there was lots of hard-fighting going on for Plancenoit.

The fight for the ridge was also moving along at a fair pace.

Guard vs Landwehr. This didn't end as you might think. Well, at least, it didn't end as badly as you might think.

The main man - Napoleon. In Blucher terms he was rated as Immobile for this scenario, meaning that he could only bring his influence to bear every few turns. Gone are the days of Napoleon the Legend.

And finally here's Blucher.

Blucher's simplicity led to a game easily played within the time available, but with plenty of hard-fighting and incident, and a feel for the events of the day.

Of course the scenario was a limited version of Waterloo, in both time and space. However I'd brought along W1815 and, by my reckoning, we managed seven games of it during the course of the evening. Here's Gary considering his options at the beginning of one of them.

Everyone who played picked it up pretty quickly. I found that the French offered the best experience for a player new to the game, with their options being more active rather than the mostly passive or proactive decisions of the Anglo-Allies. French defeats began to vanish as the game was learned, leading to victory for Napoleon in roughly half of the games. I had one game as the French and managed to pull off a victory despite Ney deciding to throw all of the cavalry into an attack on Hill late in the morning. Although the French cavalry was bled white, the Anglo-Allied morale was severely shaken, and a firm push by the rest of the French army was enough to rout Wellington's army before the Prussians reached the battlefield in significant numbers.

Ralph provided appropriate music, which sadly did not include Abba's classic. However I realised that I did have one song in my collection we could have used. From the John Renbourn Group - 'The Plains of Waterloo':

And, just for Caesar, who had never heard of the song which gave the scenario (an this post) its title, here are The Kinks:

Tuesday, 16 June 2015


Who would have thought that I'd buy a Napoleonic boardgame - or at least one that didn't feature either ships or South Americans?

Well, I did. Seduced by reviews I bought a copy of 'W1815' by Finnish company U&P Games. It's the Battle of Waterloo. And it plays in 15 minutes.

It achieves this by putting the player in command at a very high level, and giving them minimal but quick decisions to make. This is not a boardgame you'll pull out again and again for a rich, immersive experience. It's short and brutal, but it generates a sensible narrative and, despite the designer's insistence that it is unbalanced, it generally gives a close game.

How does it work? Well, the key to the game is not the battlefield and the neat little wooden block pieces. They are just there to mark casualties. The key is the set of cards each side gets, each card representing a Corps or equivalent formation. Thus the French have cards for d'Erlon (I Corps), Reille (II Corps), Kellerman (III Cavalry Corps), Milhaud (IV Cavalry Corps), Lobau (VI Corps), the Grand Battery and the Guard. The Anglo-Allies have cards for Hill, Orange, Uxbridge's cavalry, the Reserve and Blucher's Prussians. On your turn you activate one of these cards. Each card has a pre-designated target, and its own combat results table - you roll a dice, apply relevant modifiers and apply the effects to the card's target. So, for example, an action by d'Erlon only affects Orange's infantry. Results can cause the removal of divisions to the casualty track, each of which pushes the army closer to breaking, and/or the loss or morale. Some cards can act as a counter-attack to an action by the other player.

In addition both players have one-use cards for their commanders - Napoleon can be used to try and optimise the result of one French action, whereas Wellington can order a general advance which is risky, but can break a wavering French army.

The key to the game is the subtle interplay of these cards. Actions taken with one formation can improve your chances with other formations further into the game. For example d'Erlon and Reille can capture the strongpoints of La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont respectively. This not only improves their future actions, but also improves the odds of an action by the Guard. So you wouldn't consider committing the latter to the fight until one, if not both, strongpoints have been taken.  The Anglo-Allies can counter the capture of a strongpoint by using their Reserve, but this is a finite resource, and its loss has a detrimental effect on Allied morale. So as you can see, both sides must weigh the odds and make decisions about the best action to take.

As the game progresses casualties and morale loss will force rout tests on one or both armies - the first army to break loses.

The rear cover of the rules shows the game set up for play and has a short example of play (click on the picture to make it bigger):

As you can see, it's a nicely presented game.

I played through four games this evening, with honours being even. In the first the French pulled off a win through the sheer number of casualties they inflicted on the Allies - their victory came despite a spectacular cavalry charge by Uxbridge which wiped out the Grand Battery and the Prussians capturing Plancenoit. French losses came from games where they battered themselves against the Allied lines to no avail, before succumbing to casualties from the Prussians in one game and a Wellington-inspired general advance in the other. Here's a couple of pictures, both showing games where the Allies were losing:

If you like simple, abstract games which generate a bit of a story and don't take long to play, then W1815 is the one for you.

BBG has pretty much everything you need to know HERE.

This review does an excellent job of tying the game into the historical events, and explains some of the nuances and interactions far better than I can. His final point is telling - it will take you longer to read the review than to unpack and learn W1815.

Friday, 12 June 2015

The Telegraph Road

So after yesterday's trailer here's the report of the most ambitious game of Machinas I've tried so far.

The scenario was a road-chase, but instead of a small, random number of vehicles chasing a single target, I had three vehicles being pursued by a gang of six - nine vehicles in total. I determined that all vehicles would be run by players - no NPC vehicles. 

So - the scenario was effectively as described in the previous post. These were the vehicles being chased - a tanker, escorted by a car and a motor-bike.

Against them was a gang - The Black Emperors - consisting of three bikes, two buggies and an articulated digger. Their objective was to destroy the tanker before either all six of their vehicles were destroyed or dropped out of the chase.

I used the standard chase rules with a couple of additions. Firstly all pursuing vehicles were on-table from the start. No new vehicles would join the chase via random events. Instead, if the lead vehicle rolled that event then the effective turn number for determining if vehicles would drop out would be reduced by one. Secondly the effective turn number was counted as one less for each Black Emperor vehicle that was ahead of the tanker. This allowed faster vehicles to extend the game and buy more time for the other attackers.

I diced for road sections one section in advance (so the players always knew what the next section would be), and at the end of each section rolled a D6 with a '6' counting as the end of a lap and allwing all vehicles to pick up three Bonus Dice.

On the night we had six players. Dave and I took the tanker and escort. Since I would be running the game as well, I took the tanker, since it was likely to be fairly passive throughout the game. Dave took the escorting bike and car.

Caesar, John T, John G and Geoff took The Black Emperors. Caesar took the bikes, John T and Geoff a buggy each and John G the mighty digger.

Setup was simple - the three pursuees set up first in any order, then the six Black Emperor vehicles in any order. 

Unfortunately in my rush to make sure I had everything I needed for the game I forgot my phone, so wasn't able to take my usual semi-professional pictures. Fortunately Caesar had his phone and stepped in as official photographer.

Here's the first turn, looking from the back of the pack. The digger (Lift Your Skinny Fists, Like Antennas To Heaven) was bringing up the rear. The plan was for it to tail other vehicles and build up a stock of bonus dice, but John actually slowly edged it forward, keen to bring it into action. In the middle of the picture the buggies edged up the pack, whilst out of shot were the two fastest Black Emperor bikes, which Caesar had decided to push in front of the tanker in order to extend the game and also separate the tanker from its escorting bike.

Another shot of the first turn - Caesar's bikes are roaring along the road to the bottom-right.

A view of the tanker and its escorts. The tanker is almost purely defence, with heavy armour to defend against shots and rams, and barbed chains to make it harder to pass.

The beginning of a turn later in the game. The digger had moved up a couple of positions, whilst Caesar chose to hold back one of his bikes, building up an enormous store of Bonus Dice through use of the rider's drafting skill.

Geoff, using the buggy Dead Flag Blues, kept up the pressure on the tanker throughout the game, attempting to pass, and taking shot after shot when he succeeded. Sadly the tanker's armour and sheer bloody-mindedness prevented any damage. This shows a pass that went wrong, and ended with the tanker getting an opportunity to run the buggy off the road.

The buggy survived.

In the previous pictures you'll note that Caesar's bikes were not only ahead of the tanker, but were also now ahead of the escorting bike, piloted by the vigilante known as Eleanor Rigby. This was due to Dave dropping the bike back, forcing Caesar's to overtake him, and giving him the chance to then position himself for shots at them.

And so we came to the first casualty of the game. One of Caesar's bikes fell foul of Eleanor Rigby's sabotage ability, an attack we rationalised as a friendly sniper on a hill just off the board. Totally failing a control roll, the bike flipped off the road and was destroyed.

Random events can play a big part in Machinas. Several times vehicles found themselves too close to others, or with failing brakes or lost traction. In this picture John T's buggy, Terrible Canyons of Static almost collides with escort vehicle The Devil Went Down To Georgia.

But it wasn't an accidental collision which took out the escorting car - the digger closed up and deploying its massive shovel and fearsome array off spikes it ripped the car apart, leaving it a shattered wreck.

At the front of the chase Eleanor Rigby engaged  the Black Emperor bike. A single well-placed gunshot caused the bike to skid out of control, its rider mortally wounded. It skidded under the wheels of the tanker and was totally destroyed.

The chase was now well advanced. and the tanker was drained of Bonus Dice. The Black Emperors had lost two bikes destroyed, but time was now catching up with them. Caesar decided to bring up his reserve bike, but as it moved down the pack its rider inexplicably decided enough was enough and dropped out of the chase - Caesar had left it too late. In the next couple of turns both of the buggies dropped out. Losing the two bikes in front of the tanker suddenly caused the game clock to lurch forward very much in the favour of the pursuees. This left The Back Emperors with just the digger.

John G tried to move it in for the kill, but once again Dave dropped his bike back (unphotographed), preventing John from completing the manuever. He prepared to move in on the next turn, but time and remaining fuel wasn't with him, and the final Black Emperor vehicle broke off the chase.

The tanker was safe to continue to its destination.

The losses were relatively light - The Black Emperors had lost two bikes, whereas the tanker had lost an escort vehicle. Most other vehicles had scratched paintwork and dents from minor collisions, but gunfire proved rather ineffective. This was mainly because a lot of it was directed at the tanker, which had the armour to defend against it.

Machinas can be a very random game and with a single vehicle as the objective there was always the possibility of a sudden finish. Indeed this nearly happened early on when I foolishly tried to attack one of Caesar's bikes in front of me using the tanker's spiked ram. The bike fired off an oil-slick, which almost saw the tanker spin off the road. However aside from this the scenario delivered a game which neatly filled the evening, kept all of the players engage pretty much to the end, and delivered a great story with plenty of incidents large and small. I was pleased with how the various different vehicle sizes interacted - my house-rule has six size classes, and five of them were actually in play (the digger was graded a size smaller than the tanker, despite appearences). Bikes proved suitable vulnerable to shooting, offset by their ability to avoid being shot at - by vehicles other than bikes. I rather fancy an all-bike game, although I suspect that it will be fast, random and bloody. The larger vehicles tended to be more passive, but if they did get the initiative they could be very dangerous.

The random road turned out to be almost entirely straight - one curve in the eight or nine sections we negotiated - whilst only two sections generated additional Bonus Dice, and they both came early on. Later attacks suffered through lack of dice to make them truly effective.

Thanks to everyone for taking part - at least a couple of the players were novices, and others had only played once. Everyone picked up the mechanisms fairly quickly, although remembering which factors give dice and which give auto-successes was sometimes tricky.

I'm keen to try more odd vehicles now, and more chases.

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